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How the Middle East is Transforming Project Management Globally

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The Middle East is currently experiencing a period of rapid transformation, driven by ambitious national visions, megaprojects, and a focus on diversifying economies. This evolving landscape presents unique opportunities (and challenges) for project professionals working on some of the most unique projects and programmes on the planet.

Murray Ross“The move to diversify the region’s economy away from oil dependence has led to significant investments in infrastructure, smart cities, and a renewable energy mix,” said Murray Ross, Regional Director of Project Delivery and Head of Technical Excellence in Middle East and Africa for AtkinsRéalis (pictured). “Government-backed initiatives aimed at economic diversification, such as the New Murabba (the new modern downtown in Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh) and the Red Sea Global development, now receive significant investment. These projects have aggressive timelines and large budgets to achieve rapid transformation, meet national strategic goals, and get an accelerated commercial return on investment (ROI).”

While infrastructure projects in Europe and North America may face delays due to potential funding issues, lengthy environmental assessments or community opposition, Middle Eastern projects are able to be more ambitious with their budgets and timelines due to less stringent regulatory environments and public consultation processes. As a result of such unique working circumstances, these infrastructure projects inevitably produce their own ways of working, with new innovations and trends emerging.

“Some of the emerging trends and innovations in the Middle East could set new global benchmarks for project management and delivery practices,” Murray continued. “This is especially true for regions where there is regulatory inertia and bureaucracy stifling growth and development. We are already seeing projects across the world benefit from innovations such as enhanced project monitoring and control through real-time data analytics.”

Trends and innovations to have come out of these projects include the rise in the adoption of agile methodologies that enhance flexibility, collaboration, and responsiveness to change. Clients and end users are now able to communicate their highest priorities, and project professionals are able to plan according to that insight. Open communication channels and real-time project updates help to facilitate increased stakeholder engagement, particularly on nationally significant and major projects. The increased use of digital twin technology for the real-time monitoring and simulation of physical assets has also seen improved decision-making within the operation and maintenance phases for maintenance planning and operating expenses (OpEx).

Embracing New Trends and Innovations

For global regions to successfully embrace and emulate these new trends and innovations, Murray believes that project professionals should be doubling down on skills and competency development. “Whether you are at the start of your career as an emerging professional or a seasoned practitioner, investing in continuous professional development will keep you abreast of emerging trends and technologies, ensuring relevance and competence in our rapidly evolving world. To stay competitive and capable of managing complex projects, project professionals need to embrace and weave technology enhancements into delivery processes to drive efficiency, decision making, and positive outcomes for their projects and programmes.”

Recent trends indicate that strong awareness and understanding of project and programme management among senior business leaders in non-project roles is also vital for success. In the UAE and neighbouring countries, the general awareness of project management among senior business leaders is mainly influenced by factors including company scale, type of industry, leadership education and international exposure. Many senior leaders (in non-project roles) in the region have studied and worked internationally, bringing global best practices and standards in project management back with them. This directly contributes to national visions elevating the importance of structured project and programmatic approaches to initiate and achieve ambitious objectives.

“In some sectors, I’ve seen rapid economic growth – often in the SME space – lead to a focus on quick results on ROI over structured project management approaches. I have also seen some sectors where traditional hierarchal business practices dominate. I believe these factors contribute to inconsistent project outcomes, inefficient resource utilisation, and a higher risk of failure. As a project management community, we can assist these sectors by using the UAE as an example by demonstrating the tangible benefits and outcomes that a structured approach can achieve. We can highlight the importance of a structured project management and delivery framework. We can also use digital and data driven approaches to provide project benchmarking.”

Another unique trend in the region is the influx of chartered professionals. This has raised the capability and expectations of employers, and APM’s Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) status is now seen as a key attribute within the hiring process. This professional benchmark demonstrates the attainment of a defined level of technical knowledge, professional practice, and ethical behaviour; as a result, organisations in the Middle East are keen to work with such individuals.

“We know that ChPP provides individual project practitioners with credibility and that it can give them a competitive edge in securing roles, but, as I see it, the step change for the industry is for government, public sector and large corporate organisations to use ChPP as a mandatory requirement for project professionals delivering complex projects or programmes, whether in infrastructure, IT, or energy sectors,” Murray concluded. “Organisations will benefit from consistent practices, enhanced project governance, effective project planning, execution, and delivery, ultimately improving project outcomes.”


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